The British General Election of 1945

The British General Election of 1945

The British General Election of 1945

The British General Election of 1945

Excerpt

The Duke of Wellington once observed that you could no more describe a battle than you could describe a ballroom. Still less, it might be said, can you describe a general election. Twenty or more million people give their votes under every variety of circumstances and from innumerable motives. They may be impressed by the party, by its leader, by the local candidate. They may be moved by hope or fear for the public good or for their own material interest; they may be exalted by ideals or inflamed by rancorous hatreds. The discomfiture of opponents may be a more powerful incentive than loyalty to their own colours. Every consideration of class, creed, or family tradition may make its influence felt by attraction or antagonism. Many will follow the general course of their families, friends, or fellow workers, while others may be moved more by reaction against their nearest associates. Public opinion, as a matter of study, remains a mystery and in seeking to understand it one must be content with approximations to truth and imperfect deductions from infinitely complex evidence. One thing is certain about such an event as a general election. It is not simple.

Yet elections take place and they have their obvious and recognizable results. They must be recorded and, within limits, analysed. Some balance must be struck between the tributes of the victors to the sound and fundamental sense of a politically stable and educated electorate and the scorn of the defeated for the gullible, ignorant, narrow-minded, and embittered dupes who were so easily impressed by unscrupulous demagogues. It naturally happens that general elections are often remembered by some phrase or catchword, usually provided by the partisans of the defeated side. There was the election of 1874. when the Liberals 'went down in a flood of gin and beer'. There was the 'Midlothian' election of 1880, and the word Midlothian can be used to represent Gladstone, 'the old man eloquent', speaking with the tongues of men and of angels, or Gladstone the 'sophistical rhetorician inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity', lowering the tone of British public life to . . .

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